Thunder In The Air: NJMP’s Place In Aviation History

Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park is named after the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. About 1,500 pilots received advanced fighter training in P-47s at Millville Army Air Field, which preceded Millville Airport adjacent to NJMP.

New Jersey Motorsports Park, which is set to host round eight of the 2018 MotoAmerica Championship schedule this weekend, features two road courses called “Thunderbolt Raceway” and “Lightning Raceway.” Thunderbolt Raceway is the 12-turn, 2.25-mile road course on which MotoAmerica’s riders compete, and Lightning Raceway is the more-compact 1.9-mile, 10-turn road course located adjacent to Thunderbolt Raceway.

Thunderbolt and Lightning are NJMP’s feature attractions, and their names make reference to the storied history that the area holds in the annals of aviation. The tracks weren’t named after atmospheric conditions, but instead are an ongoing salute to a couple of airplanes that were once prolific in the atmosphere above New Jersey’s Cumberland County and the future site of New Jersey Motorsports Park.

NJMP is located immediately adjacent to Millville Airport, a facility that, in 1941, was the United States’ very first Defense Airport. Millville Airport played a key role in our nation’s World War II military efforts.

The first contingent of U.S. Army Air Corps personnel arrived in Millville on December 17, 1942, and in less than a year, the Millville Army Air Field opened as an Army Air Corps gunnery school for fighter pilots.

Gunnery training began with Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, but after a few weeks, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt began to rule the skies over Cumberland County. Thousands of soldiers and civilians served at Millville Army Air Field, and about 1,500 pilots receiving advanced fighter training in the P-47 Thunderbolt at Millville. The 361st Fighter Group trained at Millville during July and August 1943 prior to their deployment to the Ninth Air Force in England. And, in 1944, the 135th Army Air Forces Base Unit took control of the airfield.

On October 30, 1945 Millville Army Air Field was returned to the City of Millville and most of the airport buildings were converted to apartments for the many veterans returning from the war. The last of the apartments vanished in the early 1970s, and the airport soon became a hub of industry and aviation for Southern New Jersey, while the original base headquarters and Link Trainer buildings today house the Millville Army Air Field Museum.

New Jersey Motorsports Park embraced this rich history by naming its marquee road course “Thunderbolt Raceway,” while Lightning Raceway is named after the P-38 Lightning, a WWII fighter aircraft.

New Jersey Motorsports Park also carried the historical WWII theme by naming its trackside condominiums “The Villas at Breighton.” Breighton was the name of an allied airfield in Great Britain where many of the P-47 pilots who trained at Millville served during WWII.

Other ties to the WWII theme include the English Tudor design of the clubhouse, the Officers Club Q-Hangar design, and the Timing Tower that resembles a WWII air traffic control tower.

While building the various structures at New Jersey Motorsports Park, many WWII artifacts were found and collected for display at the Millville Army Air Field Museum. And the Bore Site Range, which is located just outside the paddock at Thunderbolt Raceway, was used by P-47 Thunderbolt pilots-in-training to calibrate their machine guns back in the day.

Practice and qualifying for the MotoAmerica races take place on Friday and Saturday at NJMP with racing set for both Saturday and Sunday.